Cedar Rapids activists look for answers after fatal stabbing

Community members and racial equity advocacy groups in Cedar Rapids held a town hall, asking for more information on the death of 29-year-old Devonna Walker.
Published: Jan. 29, 2023 at 10:53 PM CST
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - About 50 people attended a town hall in the Cedar Rapids library Sunday afternoon, armed with questions and looking for answers after the fatal stabbing of 29-year-old Devonna Walker on Jan. 2.

A video provided to KCRG-TV9 on Jan. 11 shows what happened before, during, and after the stabbing: several people are shouting at each other, and one shouts the “n-word.” Seconds later, as a woman looks to be walking away, Walker charges her and a scuffle ensues. In that melee is when it appears Walker is stabbed.

“A black person was murdered and the murderer—everybody knows who he is and nothing has happened,” Amara Andrews, with the Advocates for Social Justice and a moderator of Sunday’s panel, said.

The purpose of the town hall, Andrews added, was two-fold: to learn more about the current situation and to prompt action.

Local attorney Ann Brown was on the first of two panels at the town hall. Her role was to provide insight into legal proceedings that might be unfolding. Activists and protestors argue the investigation has not been transparent and have asked why no one has been charged. Brown said those investigating have an ethical duty to protect the integrity investigation.

“We may not know the extent of the investigation, the actual investigation, and I would say that I think that is fairly appropriate,” Brown said.

However, Brown said many questions for police and Linn County Attorney Nick Maybanks are valid.

“If the County Attorney makes a decision not to charge there will be all sorts of questions for the County Attorney to answer,” Brown said.

Maybanks, along with Cedar Rapids Mayor Tiffany O’Donnell and Police Chief Wayne Jerman, were invited to the town hall. None attended. Maybanks said in a letter it would be “highly unorthodox and potentially unethical” for him to attend while the investigation is ongoing. O’Donnell said she was confident the Cedar Rapids Police Department is committed to a thorough investigation.

Brown also discussed how and if Iowa’s “stand your ground” law could apply to this case. That law allows defendants to justify the use of deadly force in cases of self-defense. Brown explained that stand your ground was not available to those who incite or provoke.

“You have to have not done anything that a reasonable person would anticipate would bring about a physical attack,” Brown said. “You can’t egg someone on and then claim it as self-defense.”

Topics at the hours-long town hall ranged from the highly specific to big-picture items, like how to address racism and change systems.

“We need to start encouraging and helping our own people to fill these offices up,” Ture Morrow, panelist and founder of We are CR, said.

The meeting ended with a prayer for justice and a call to keep the pressure on officials until all the questions finally had answers.

“Keep asking. Keep talking. Don’t shut up,” Pastor Gary Sneller, another panelist, said.